1999 CHICAGO MARATHON. 2:13.26 (PB – WA State Record)


The year was 1999 and interest in the Sydney Olympics was building from a murmur to a full-blown roar. West Australian record holder and Australian rep at the World Cross Country and World Athletics Championships, Ray Boyd was on the cusp of Olympic selection and pounding out some huge kilometres around his day job as a school teacher in his attempt to qualify for the games.

The Chicago Marathon of 1999 was most memorable around the world for the new world record set by Khalid Khannouchi of 2:05.42 but at the same race Boyd shattered the West Australian marathon record with 2:13.26 and in the process achieved the Olympic qualifying standard. Here he recounts the big day.


Front Runner (FR): Thanks for your time Ray. Obviously with the Chicago Marathon fast approaching this weekend, you will no doubt be reflecting on the event and your experiences there in 1999. How did you come to race Chicago in 1999?

Ray Boyd (RB): I had come off a really solid 5 weeks up at Falls Creek, which started in December ‘98 and took me through to the start of February ‘99. My intention was to try and gain entry into an early Japanese Marathon in an attempt to get an Olympic qualifier on the board. I raced the WA State Champs on the 14th Feb and won the 1500m in 3:51 so I was pretty happy with my speed and form. Sadly, a day later I rolled my ankle on a morning run and this aggravated my Achilles that had been causing me grief for a few weeks. Running the WA State 10000m a week later only made it worse so I dropped the mileage away and struggled for a month, which really meant I was not in shape to run a Marathon competitively in Japan. I did some work with WAIS and had my Achilles taped. Knowing I might struggle for a qualifier in Australia I selected Canberra as the marathon to try and win as they offered up a trip to Chicago marathon for the winner. I was only averaging 13 miles a day through March and went into Canberra underdone. My goal was to win and the time was irrelevant. I managed to run 2:17.59 and win the event, which meant that I now had about 6 months of running where I could get into shape and try and get the qualifier on the board.


FR: So eventually once everything lined up for Chicago it became the focus of your attempts for Olympic qualification. Can you describe the preparation you had leading into the event after Canberra?

RB: My preparation for Chicago started rather poorly. Canberra had aggravated the Achilles again and I needed to get that right before I could start to load up the work. Throughout May I ran maintenance mileage and had mega treatment to get it right. Our first son, Sebastian, was born in March as well so things were a bit hectic with us being new parents and working a full time job. Coming into June my mileage had started to build again and I was able to start hitting double runs each day, 7 days a week. All my long runs (18 – 24 miles) were done at Helena Valley and I was regularly hitting a tempo run on a Wednesday (13- 15 miles) night around the river. My legs were holding up well and I got in some solid racing, running a solo 29:40 for the State 10km champs in South Perth and hitting out the Sydney City to Surf in 42:20. Then in August, I ran the National Half Marathon finishing second in 64:37, 2 seconds behind Dean Cavuoto in a sprint finish in horrific conditions. My intention was to try and win this and get a place in the World Marathon team, however Dean took the spot which left me looking for a solid hit out before heading to Chicago. I ended up running the Fremantle 10k and punching out a 29:47. Stupidly though I went home and poured a concrete slab which tweaked my calf while moving cement from the mixer to the framework. This settled over the next few days and aside from rough sleeping patterns with the new addition, I left Australia on Friday the 15th October feeling pretty confident that I was fit. My diary entry for the Thursday session shows that I ran 3 x 1k with a 500 float with Nick Fragemini in 2:54 (1000m) – 2:02 (500m) – 2:49 (1000m) – 2:06 (500m) – 2:56 (1000m) at my Thursday stomping ground of Yokine Reserve.


FR: Sounds as though life was indeed hectic in the months leading into the event. What mindset did you take onto the plane and into the race itself?

RB: Going into the race I was pretty focused and feeling really confident that if I did not panic and followed what I had discussed with Marg (ed. Margaret Saunders, Ray’s Coach since high school) we would be fine. That being said, I was a little nervous given the big city Marathon element that only added to the intensity of the race. My ultimate goal that day was to get under 2:10. Marg and I had done the maths and thought this was possible if I stayed controlled and came home with a negative split which was do able given the work we had done with our long runs and tempos. I was also well aware that the race was primed for an attempt on the world record so I needed to stay well clear of that pace. I had spoken with a Kiwi Dale Warrander who was after a similar time and we decided we would work together for as long as we could. My key word was flow.


FR: With the world record on the cards, the event was obviously the source of a lot of pre-race hype. What was your recollection of the energy in Chicago in the lead in the event?

RB: It was really interesting and something that I had never experienced before. Even the World Championships in Athens was different to the feel of Chicago. The whole city was geared for this event. There were pre races in the lead up to the Sunday event and everything was about the race. This was part of the reason I did not move into the race hotel until the Thursday pre race, instead choosing to stay out at the Holiday Inn Meadow Banks where I had access to a large wooded park and a few high school tracks. Once in Chicago, it was just huge. The pre race festival made the Perth City to Surf event at the Perth Convention Centre look like a 7/11. We had a meeting regarding the racing pace groups and who was doing what in relation to the attack on the record – it was just insane.


FR: Sounds Amazing. As it turned out, naturalised American, Khalid Khannouchi did break the world record, running 2:05.42 and becoming the first man under 2.06. What was it like to be part of an event where a world record was set?

RB: It was actually pretty incredible really, as an elite we were up the front and had a clear start, I remember warming up and crossing paths with Khalid Khannouchi and Moses Tanui as well as watching Ondoroso Osoro doing his run throughs and seeing these guys look just so smooth was impressive. When the gun went they just bolted I was like, WOW has anyone told them its 42.2km. I mean, I was not hanging around running 4:58 mile splits (3.12/km) for the first 3 miles, but these guys were off the charts. Once things had settled down, the race was just like any other with the exception that at every aid station and 5km mark there was some form of entertainment. The crowds were just incredible… I mean these guys would cheer for 2 flies climbing a wall – it was just great. I remember coming around a corner at one point around the 15k or 20k mark and seeing all these blokes in chaps and nothing else just cheering and going ape. It was incredible. When I went through the half way point in 65.42 some bloke runs next to me for a bit screaming come on man the leaders are only 3 minutes ahead of you and trying to pump me up. The energy was just great and really helped to keep you in the zone. What many people don’t know is that while the world record was broken (2:05:42), the first 25 guys recorded a total of 11 PBs, 4 National records and 1 state record in that race. The depth was incredible.


FR: The energy is still palpable Ray. In retrospect, what are your fondest memories of the event and the experience as a whole?

RB: Meeting and speaking with Frank Shorter was pretty cool. He was an incredible runner and the 1976 Olympic Champion. He spoke with me for about half an hour and was just really relaxed and grounded. I still have the signed poster where he wished me all the best in my pursuit of a qualifier. Aside from that, the single thing that remains cemented in my head was the fact that everywhere after the race, in cafes, in the hotel, in restaurants everyone was wearing their finishing medal. Everyone was sort of joined in this common goal. It was also fantastic to ring Marg and just say to her we did it. Ringing Chris Wardlaw and letting him know I had qualified was also pretty cool.


FR: How does the event ultimately sit when reflecting on your career and achievements as a runner?

RB: This event was a real turning point for me, at the time I just felt that I was now capable of mixing it and running faster. Despite fading and running a 67 second half I actually felt really strong. It gave me great confidence for the Sydney trial. I also thought that once the Sydney race was over and if all went well I raced at the Olympics I wanted to run some more city Marathons. As it turned out this was the fastest I would ever run for the Marathon. It was the race that I set my PB on and the race where my decision to remain and train in Perth was justified. I had showed to myself that I could train in Perth at such a level that would allow me to compete at a high level both interstates and internationally.


FR: Obviously the 39th edition of the race is this weekend. In closing, what advice would you give a runner leading into the event?

RB: Have a race plan and stick with it. It’s really easy to get caught up in the hype but ultimately the race is a celebration of the work and energy that you have out into preparing for it. Have a clear focus of what it is that you want to achieve. And by this I mean a realistic focus, don’t set yourself up for failure. Get your preparation right, remember the old adage “We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan”. Seriously, if you aim for something and do the work most things are achievable you just have to get yourself into a place where you can be confident in yourself.


FR: Great advice Ray. Thanks so much for your time and appreciate the chance to discuss your race and get more insight into the event and experience.